01/24/2005 12:00AM

Carefree Contessa on a winter roll


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Five years ago, when he was vying for his first New York trainer's title, Gary Contessa was so nervous he said he couldn't sleep at night. Now a three-time leading trainer on the inner track, Contessa is more focused on winning races than titles.

Last Friday, Contessa had his best single day in New York, winning four consecutive races on one card. The four-bagger gave Contessa 16 wins at the halfway point of the inner-track meet. Contessa is followed by Richard Dutrow (15), Scott Lake (14), Tom Bush (12), and Mike Hushion (11).

"Before the meet started, I thought I'd have a very successful meet," said Contessa, who has won or shared three inner-track training titles. "I had some nice horses and they're all starting to find themselves. When you run the kind of stable I run, it's kind of hit and miss."

Contessa has a mix of claiming horses and New York-breds. Two of Contessa's winners on Friday were taking class drops, and another won a New York-bred maiden race. Contessa said he is loaded with talented New York-bred maidens.

"I think I'm going to win 50 percent of the New York-bred maiden races over the next couple of months," said Contessa, who maintains a 44-horse stable based at Aqueduct.

Contessa has run more horses (80) than anyone at this meet. He has four more entered in three races on Wednesday and said he believes Give Faith, entered in a $30,000 claiming event which goes as race 5, is his best chance to win.

"Give Faith should have won last time, and I fully expect him to win on Wednesday," Contessa said. "That's a good spot."

As for winning his fourth inner-track title, Contessa said it's not a priority. Contessa points out that Dutrow and Lake could pull horses out of other venues in order to win the title.

"I would be real happy to win the title; I don't have to," Contessa said. "When I won the first one, I couldn't sleep at night. Now it's more fun than anything; the help is into it and I'm into it. I definitely have the ammunition to be formidable. I don't have the ammunition those guys have, if they so choose to use it."

Horsemen lose two days of training

Due to the blizzard that dumped about a foot of snow on the area, the tracks at Belmont Park and Aqueduct were closed for two days, forcing horsemen to improvise in their training.

Losing Sunday was not surprising, given that it snowed from 11 a.m. Saturday through early Sunday morning. Some trainers were surprised, however, that the snow was not removed from either Aqueduct's inner track or Belmont Park's training track until what would have been training hours on Monday.

John Passero, the new track superintendent, said he decided not to work on the track Sunday because of the high winds and frigid temperatures that prevailed. Passero said that at Aqueduct, the winds blew the snow off the inner track entering the clubhouse turn, but left three-foot-high drifts around the quarter pole. Passero added that the parts of the track where the snow was blown off were "semi-frozen," and he didn't want the entire track to be that way.

"It would be frozen where you packed it so tight that you would never get it up," said Passero, who noted that other East Coast tracks affected by the storm took the same approach. "There's always a danger to leave it, but I was positive that starting last night with the wind blowing would have been a mistake."

Conditions were sunny and less windy on Monday with high temperatures in the mid- to upper 20's. Passero was hopeful that the tracks would be open for training on Tuesday and that racing would go on as scheduled on Wednesday.

Delay could help Tales of Glory

The postponement of the Grade 3 Aqueduct Handicap may prove to be beneficial for Tales of Glory. The $100,000 Aqueduct Handicap was postponed from last Saturday to this Sunday after the snow forced the cancellation of Aqueduct's weekend cards.

Tales of Glory was entering the Aqueduct just 16 days after winning a classified allowance race by 1 3/4 lengths and earning a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 103. Now, instead of 16 days between starts, Tales of Glory will have 24 days' rest.

"He's been doing well since that race," said Seth Benzel, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. "I didn't have any excuses going into it, but the time is going to do nothing but help him. He's sharp, he's fit, he's obviously on top of his game. Any time you run a career best you would like a little more time to just put a little more in the tank."

The race will be open to all 23 original nominees and will be redrawn Friday. Aggadan, the 123-pound starting highweight, will be the likely favorite provided he enters back.